I’m a huge fan of putting formulas to concepts in an effort to break things down into their component parts. The idea is not that I can ever calculate the result of the formula, but it is just a different way of thinking about concepts and attacking them from different angles.In studying for the CPA exam, this is the formula I’ve been working with:


These 3 components – Intensity, Effectiveness and Time – are what make or break your ability to pass the CPA exam.  I call it the Study Smarter Formula. Let’s deconstruct this and delve a little deeper.


The intensity of your study session is how much focus you have.  If you are studying, but are not able to focus and are just going through the motions, you get a low score for intensity.

The first component of learning and memory is attention and if you are not paying attention and focused, you are not learning well. With focus and deliberate practice, you are really paying attention to the details of the MCQ’s and the concepts you are studying.  You are making connections between ideas and really committing these things to memory.


The effectiveness of your study session is how powerful the study method is that you are using.  We already know that highlighting doesn’t help you learn. You can spend a lot of time studying, but if you are not using effective study methods, you are wasting that time.

To maximize your study time and your score, you need to spend your time using methods that are effective, like focused MCQ’s targeting your weak areas, encoding concepts into your memory by rewriting them in your own words, building connections between concepts by discussing them with study partners or an instructor, and spaced repetition of concepts through practice exams, flashcards and audio lectures.


Study time is the area most CPA exam candidates focus on maximizing.  This is also the area that is easiest to measure. Candidates will plan their study time in detail with how many hours they think it will take to get prepared for the exam, and this is a very necessary task every CPA exam candidate should complete.

The problem is, time is the one component that is fixed for all of us.  Sure, some of us have jobs and families in addition to studying for the exam while others are solely focused on the exam, but all of us have the same 24 hours in a day.

You can and should re-prioritize so that you are spending enough time preparing for the exam, but this is not the only way to ensure you are prepared.

Using This Formula To Pass The CPA Exam

Using the formula above, you can see that you can impact your success on exam day by improving any one of the 3 factors, or better yet, improving some combination of the factors.

If your time is limited because you have a job and a family, then your focus should be on intense study sessions that use highly effective study methods.  In this way, you can get the same amount of productivity as someone who spends more time, but is less focused.

Anyone who has spent any length of time studying for the CPA exam will tell you that there are days where focus is nearly impossible.  And anyone who has experienced this knows that very little gets learned and remembered from these days.

This is a common experience we can all relate to, but it also illustrates the point that not all study time is created equal.  100 hours of your study time is not the same as someone else’s who also spends 100 hours.

Your time may be more focused and more effective, so you will do better on the exam. Intense, focused effort, using study methods that have been scientifically proven to work is the key to spending less time and still getting that 75.  

What would it mean to your boss and to your family if you could spend less time studying for the CPA exam while still making sure you are well-prepared? This is studying smarter, not harder.